April 25th, 2019
Frequently my boss will check in with me following meetings and ask if I was okay because he saw something in my body language that seemed “off”.
I’m puzzled when people bring this up with me because I typically have a very neutral face and posture until I hear the whole story and make up my mind about how I feel. Non-expression from my side is just that - I’m living in a moment of absorption where I’m simply taking in what’s going on around me.
Recently I learned that men and women have different accepted communication behaviors, which was mildly annoying. Because of what I’ve been taught, I thought we were all supposed to offer feedback while listening: nods, “mm-hm’s”, and eye contact. Shocking was the news that it is actually normal for a guy to be allowed to stare off into space while you’re speaking to him so that he can process the information. If you’re a woman reading this, take a second and think about the reaction you would get if you tried that during a one-on-one meeting in any environment.
Also news to me was that facial expressions are required from women. Women are expected to nod, smile, and I suppose show what they’re feeling on their face. Wow, I think I need to turn in my woman card at this point. I’ve been told my blank stares are not the way I should listen or behave in work settings. Often I’ve been unsure how to respond to feedback on my lack of expressiveness when I know I’m simply processing what’s going on around me and using my poker face until I’m ready to respond. I’ve never understood it, but now I get it.
It’s because I’m a girl!
Just like the rest of my self awareness and personal development, I love stumbling across a breakthrough like this. There are parts of me that I love and want to keep, knowing there are at least as many more parts that need to evolve or fade into the background. Although I’m not a fan of being stereotyped or misunderstood when I don’t fit into the right box (who is?), the more I understand about myself and the world around me, the better situated I am to lead well and love well.
For kicks, here are a few myths about communication differences between the genders:
1 Language and communication matter more to women than to men; women talk more than men.
2 Women are more verbally skilled than men.
3 Men's goals in using language tend to be about getting things done, whereas women's tend to be about making connections to other people. Men talk more about things and facts, whereas women talk more about people, relationships and feelings.
4 Men's way of using language is competitive, reflecting their general interest in acquiring and maintaining status; women's use of language is cooperative, reflecting their preference for equality and harmony.
You can read the full article at https://www.theguardian.com/world/2007/oct/01/gender.book
Yeah, I usually only talk when I need to, so number one is out the window.
I might be biased because I work with some gifted male communicators, so number two is definitely not true.
Jokingly, I tell people I have a man-brain and I’ve found myself prefacing talks about feelings by letting people know I’m going to use the “f” word.
The fourth point does resonate with me as I’m typically striving to facilitate cooperation and harmony.
Since most of my audience is women, here are a few suggestions to integrate into your own communication style and up your power game. The most important question to ask yourself is if your actions and behavior are aligned with your goals. When you know your destination you can figure out the steps to get there.
Most importantly, be true to who you are. You will function optimally when you are operating in your natural zone. That being said, develop your communication skills because everything hinges on communication and influence. Choose one of the skills above to focus on and practice. When you’re standing in line at Starbucks or Target, take up a little more space. Or when you’re ordering dinner this weekend, instead of asking for your taco plate, use a kind tone and tell the server what you want. It’s the little tweaks every day that get us where we want to go.